Teaching an Old Drug New Tricks
How many miracle meds are really out there?
A recent report in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that amantadine, a previously approved medication, might have a new use. Originally prescribed to prevent influenza during outbreaks, it also accelerates improvement in patients with traumatic brain injury. This isn't the first time amantadine has surprised. Years after it was first approved, in 1966, it was given to residents of a nursing home during a flu outbreak. Unexpectedly, the movement problems for many patients with Parkinson's disease improved. Voila: a new drug indication was born.
This type of pharmaceutical coincidence is not rare. For example, Viagra started out as a mediocre blood-pressure pill; its effectiveness as a tumescent was a side effect. Just two weeks ago, a large study showed that aspirin, the ultimate medicinal chameleon, may lower risk for yet another disease. Once a simple pain medication, then a thinner of blood and protector against heart attacks and strokes, aspirin now may also prevent multiple types of cancer.
Few discoveries spark more excitement than these kind of serendipities. But the temptation to try an already approved drug for a puzzling disease may overwhelm reasoned judgment. …